James Joseph Sylvester

Sylvester was a professor of mathematics at Johns Hopkins University and one of the notable mathematicians of the nineteenth century. His writing style was eloquent as evidenced by the following quote from pages 77-78 of

The Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester, volume III,
pages 72-87, Address on Commemoration Day at Johns Hopkins University 22 February, 1877.

I remember, too, how, in like manner, when a very young professor, fresh from the University of Cambridge, in the act of teaching a private pupil the simpler parts of Algebra, I discovered the principle now generally adopted into the higher text books, which goes by the name of the "Dialytic Method of Elimination." So much for the reaction of the student on the teacher. May the time never come when the two offices of teaching and researching shall be sundered in this University! So long as man remains a gregarious and sociable being, he cannot cut himself off from the gratification of the instinct of imparting what he is learning, of propagating through others the ideas and impressions seething in his own brain, without stunting and atrophying his moral nature and drying up the surest sources of his future intellectual replenishment.

I should be sorry to suppose that I was to be left for long in sole possession of so vast a field as is occupied by modern mathematics. Mathematics is not a book confined within a cover and bound between brazen clasps, whose contents it needs only patience to ransack; it is not a mine, whose treasures may take long to reduce into possession, but which fill only a limited number of veins and lodes; it is not a soil, whose fertility can be exhausted by the yield of successive harvests; it is not a continent or an ocean, whose area can be mapped out and its contour defined: it is limitless as that space which it finds too narrow for its aspirations; its possibilities are as infinite as the worlds which are forever crowding in and multiplying upon the astronomer's gaze; it is as incapable of being restricted within assigned boundaries or being reduced to definitions of permanent validity, as the consciousness, the life, which seems to slumber in each monad, in every atom of matter, in each leaf and bud and cell, and is forever ready to burst forth into new forms of vegetable and animal existence.


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